American emigre Valdas Adamkus took office on Thursday as Lithuania's second president since independence from the former Soviet Union, pledging to work for entry to the European Union and NATO.
Adamkus, 71, has pledged to use his 50 years' experience of working in the West to boost Lithuania's chances of getting into the EU and shed its image as a post-Soviet reform laggard.He took power from ex-communist Algirdas Brazauskas in a ceremony in parliament, still surrounded by concrete barricades from the 1991 fight for independence from Moscow.
"I shall seek to become the president of all the people of Lithuania rather than a symbolic head of state or state representative," Adamkus told parliament in a speech.
Lithuania's president has more power than his counterparts in neighboring Latvia and Estonia, helping to form the Cabinet after elections and shaping foreign policy.
Adamkus, who fled his homeland in 1944 after briefly taking part in the fight against the invading Red Army and became a senior official in the U.S. Environment Protection Agency, won a narrow election victory last month.
"The key objectives of Lithuania's foreign policy are membership of NATO and the European Union as soon as possible," he told parliament.
Lithuania was one of five Eastern European nations rejected for the next wave of EU admissions, and it is hoping to make it into the next group.
"I shall do my utmost for Lithuania to become a full-fledged member of the European and the Euro-Atlantic community during my term of office," he added.
Brazauskas leaves office as Lithuania's most popular politician, admired for his modesty and pragmatism amid bitter fights between the former communist left and the nationalist right now in power.
Despite being Lithuania's last Communist Party boss, Brazauskas was a reformer and oversaw the firm establishment of democratic institutions.
But under his rule, during most of which ex-Communists held power, Lithuania gained a reputation as a laggard in privatization where the bureaucracy was still run with Soviet-style inefficiency and dishonesty.
Adamkus said one of his goals was to make Lithuanian society more transparent and rebuild popular confidence in state institutions.
"Enhancement of the power of influence exercised by the individual through the decentralization of state power and the strengthening of self-government is an undeniable means (to progress)."